ARANMULA: A long shadow falls along the length of the hall, creating an illusion of a partition. Grim-looking faces with empty stares, emerge from the corners, desperation writ large on them.
Enter the Community Hall at Ezhikkad in Aranmula panchayat in Pathanamthitta, which has been transformed into a temporary relief camp. About 140 people from 38 families are huddled together. They find themselves back at the relief camp while struggling to cope with the haunting memories of last year’s floods. Ezhikkad Harijan colony - the second biggest Scheduled Caste settlement in Kerala- has innumerable flood-related stories of neglect and despair to share.
Exactly one year after the August floods ravaged their lives, leaving them literally on the edge, the 450-odd families residing in this colony have once again been swept into a time warp that forces them to keep reliving traumatic and nearly fatal moments again and again. More than the trauma of another disaster, they are worried about going through the painful and unending process of rehabilitation and compensation.
“I have been running from pillar to post to get compensation from the government for the past several months. I have filed more than two appeals, but to no avail. Where exactly do they expect me to go with her?” asks 75-year-old Kochupennu, pointing to her physically challenged daughter on the floor. Fifty-year-old Latha, who is also prone to frequent psychiatric tussles, smiles wearily from her perch on the ground.
Kochupennu and Latha have been surviving on the widow and handicapped pensions that comprise their only sources of income. “I last got my pension for 2018 Christmas. I may get it again for Onam,” says Latha with a sigh.
“Last year, floodwater completely submerged our house. We immediately moved to the relief camp and when we went back, there was nothing left. Though the government made tall promises of immediate assistance, we didn’t get anything. I went to the village office a couple of times with appeals and complaints. Nothing has happened so far. This time around, I don’t know how many times I’ll have to knock on their doors,” said Kochupennu with grief all over her face. Hers is not an isolated case. Many of those at the camp with whom Express spoke have similar stories to share.
Krishnankutty, 52, on Saturday landed at the relief camp set up at the local family health centre directly after his weekly dialysis at a Kozhencherry hospital. “I suffer from kidney failure and need regular dialysis. Last year, too, we found ourselves here. However, we had to move out after the camp was inundated. Immediately after the floods, we had submitted a petition for government assistance. Other than the immediate assistance of `20,000 we didn’t get any other relief,” says Krishnankutty who along with wife Leela, stays at the camp.
Kochammini, 90, however, seems content with the sparse facilities at the camp. Her only complaint is about the delay of a couple of hours in getting her noon meal. On the other hand, 85-year old Podippennu, who is slightly paralysed, has been struggling to keep her feet warm.
Incessant rain in the past two days has submerged at least 50 houses at Ezhikkad, which is located on the banks of Perumthode, a tributary of the Pampa. Flooding in the canal coupled with the presence of vast low-lying tracts of paddy fields led to the submergence of most houses.